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Monday, July 28, 2014

I DARE Car Dealers to Answer Just One Question about their Dealer Fee:

Why don’t you include the profit you make on your dealer fee in the price of the car you quote to your customer? 

If you will answer this question truthfully then I pledge never to raise the issue of the dealer fee again.

The reason that I do hear from car dealers and the Florida Auto Dealers Association, FADA, as to why most car dealers charge a dealer fee is that it’s an “economic necessity”. Dealer margins are so low, the economy is so bad, and the car buyers are so armed with information on dealers’ costs and profit margins via the Internet that dealers need the extra profit they make from their dealer fees. OK, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and stipulate that this is a fact. I won’t even argue that I don’t charge a dealer fee and have been profitable for many years and even thrived through the Great Recession years.

Don’t add the dealer fee to the price if the car after the customer commits to buy at a lower price. Don’t hide the amount of your dealer fee in the fine print. Don’t tell the customer that the price is “plus tax, tag, and ‘fees’” fooling her into believing “fees” are state, federal, or local taxes. Don’t tell the customer that “all dealers charge a dealer fee” which you know to be untrue. Don’t tell her that the law requires that you must charge her the dealer fee because you charge others, which you also know to be untrue. Don’t tell the customer that the dealer fee is not a profit but expenses that you must recoup like doc fees, preparing the car for delivery, and administrative costs. When you went to school you should have learned in Economics 101 that the definition of profit is “the difference between the selling price of a cost or service and its total costs”. Besides, you don’t even pay to prepare your new cars for delivery because you are reimbursed by the manufacturer and you are not allowed by law to charge doc fees.

When I ask car dealers or FADA officials this question they always give me the same answer…Hamma, Hamma, Hamma, just like Ralph Kramden of the Honeymooners. You know what I mean…”the deer caught in the headlights” or the politician on “Meet the Press” when the moderator shows the video of something the politician said on camera two weeks ago that directly contradicts something he just said.

OK car dealers and FADA, if I’m wrong about this, here’s your chance to shut me up about the dealer fee forever. All you have to do is give me a truthful answer to this question. Why don’t you include the profit you make on your dealer fee in the price of the car you quote to your customers?

Monday, July 21, 2014

“Come Into my Parlor” Said the Spider to the Fly

Some readers will say, “There Earl goes again, tarnishing the name of car dealers. Why doesn’t he just focus on his own dealership and not run down his competition?” I’ll answer that. I’m 73 years old and have been a car dealer since 1968. I have 3 sons active in the business who will take it over one day. I also have 5 grandchildren who may decide to come into the business. My main purpose in what I do as a consumer advocate (aka “tarnishing the name of car dealers”) is to light a fire that will spread and, one day, raise the (very low) level of respect the public currently has for my lifelong profession. My wife, Nancy, is my teammate in this quest. Our dealership’s stated company purpose is: To make the car buying and servicing experiences pleasurable ones for our customers. In doing so, and leading by example, we will bring integrity and respectability to the image of car dealers everywhere.”

Though some say so, I don’t believe all car dealers are evil or even unethical any more than I believe that all lawyers or all politicians are. These three professions have something in common. They are all ranked at the bottom of the annual Gallup poll on “Honesty and Ethics in Professions.”

I have many friends who are car dealers, lawyers, and politicians that I respect and trust greatly. They feel the same way about their profession as I, and many endeavor, as I, to raise the level of public trust for what they do for a living. The Florida Bar Association regularly fines, suspends, and disbars lawyers who violate their code of ethics or the law. Similarly, the US Congress and Florida Legislature have internal codes of ethics which are enforced. Unfortunately, the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) has a code of ethics, but with no enforcement. The Florida Auto Dealers Association (FADA) has no code of ethics or internal enforcement of any kind. I’ve been asking and working with the leadership of FADA for years to change this, but they can’t get the approval of their dealers.

I believe time is running out for NADA, FADA, and all car dealers to accept the fact that we have too many rotten apples in our barrel. The consumer of the 21st Century’s intelligence, education, and awareness has exponentially increased in the past 20 years, largely due to the Internet as a source of knowledge and instantaneous, universal communication via the social medial. Tesla has begun to sell cars directly, by-passing the dealer. My sons and I visited the Tesla showroom in Boca Raton on July 2nd and what a refreshing and amazingly satisfying experience! The sales person was very well informed, pleasant, and there was absolutely no pressure to buy a car. We were given bottom-line prices on all the models. If ordered a car there was no deposit required and we could change our mind at any time before we took delivery.

The car dealers and their associations are vigorously fighting against the right of Tesla to sell their cars directly, bypassing the car dealer. The NADA and state dealer associations are very powerful and have been politically successful so far. Only a few states are allowing Tesla to sell directly to the public. But the public is overwhelmingly behind Elon Musk and Tesla and over 95% of Americans would rather buy their cars directly from the manufacturer. You would think that this would send a “message” to car dealers and car manufacturers. I’m not a big advocate of the Tesla product because I don’t think all electric cars will be the answer for long, long time. But I am an advocate of the way Tesla factory stores sell their cars with total courtesy, respect, honesty, and transparency.

I think it’s only a matter of time before GM, Ford, Toyota and all of the auto manufacturers start thinking about doing the same thing that Tesla is trying to do…eliminate the car dealer and go direct. This is what Apple has done so successfully and, in a fashion, so does Amazon. The only thing stopping this from happening today is the lobbying, political power of car dealers and their national and state associations. But this can only buy them time. Ultimately, it’s the American public that runs things in the USA. The politicians need the car dealers’ money to get elected, granted. But ultimately it’s the voters who elect them and allow them to stay in office. The voters are almost all car buyers and almost all of the car buyers would rather buy directly from a manufacturer in the Tesla way of doing business than from their local car dealer.

The car dealers still have time to get their act together…maybe even 10 or 15 years, but they better get started right away. They have a whole lot to change and way too many “rotten apples” in their barrel.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A TRUE, Typical Story of the Fear of Car Buying



Below, you can read the Facebook exchange between a young widow from Arizona and me. She contacted me to help her buy a car. I chose to write this article about her request, because her fear of car buying is so typical, epidemic in the USA. The annual Gallup poll on Ethics and Honesty in Professions, always lists car dealers last or next to last. Many people would prefer to experience a root canal at their dentist than buy a car from their dealer. Those victimized the most are the very young, elderly, less educated, overly trusting, and the English language impaired.
I chose to make this young woman’s fear of car buying and my proposed solution the subject of this blog because it is so typical of so many, but who are afraid to speak out and ask for help. With her permission, I will follow up later with what actually happened when she followed my advice to use to buy her car.
I’ve advocated this online buying service for several years. In full disclosure, I’m a TrueCar dealer, a member of TrueCar’s national dealer council, and a stockholder in this company. TrueCar is the best, safest way for you to buy a car. When you buy from a TrueCar dealer, he is contractually obligated to follow strict ethical guidelines. The dealer quotes you his best price on the car of your choice, knowing that you are free to shop and compare that price with other dealers. TrueCar also monitors the prices of their dealers. They can accurately do so because a condition of TrueCar membership is that the dealer must allow TrueCar direct access to his financial data via his computer system. TrueCar knows what price he quoted you and what price they actually sold it to you for. TrueCar also knows what prices other dealers are selling cars for and whether these prices are low, average, or high. Not all TrueCar dealers abide by the rules, but, if they don’t, TrueCar will drop them from their dealer network. TrueCar prints their phone number on the price certificate you receive from them, 888 TRUE CAR (888 878-3227). For Spanish, it is 888 256-5461.
This is my Facebook dialog with the young widow from Arizona:
Can I hire you to help me to lease a car :) I am a widow. My husband died Sept 2001. I bought a brand new Ford Expedition off the show floor and paid over $40,000+..I got taken because I had never bought a new car before. In the 1st week an elderly 82 yr. old man took out the passenger side in a Walmart parking lot. He had no insurance. the 3rd year, a woman ran a red light and completely totaled the truck leaving the Vets office after doing an animal rescue and nearly killed me. Again, she was from Mexico and had no insurance. Doing my homework and research I fought with the insurance company and got a decent value to buy another vehicle but still lost tons of money on the lot value at purchase and went without a car for nearly 4 months (had to rent). In 2008 I bought a used 2003 Navigator from A dealership in Scottsdale, It was mechanically totaled in the 2nd year, after $4000 in repairs I traded it in to the same dealership for $11,000 in 2010 for a 2010 slightly used Chrysler 300 for $17000. The total price I ended up paying for the 300 after my trade deduction was...$29,000 including interest at 14% I still have this car and I am still paying it off at $360.oo a month and still owe almost $11,000. I needed a big SUV because I do animal rescue and have to have large kennels for transport so I bought a 2005 navigator less than a year ago in cash and paid over $250 to have it professionally inspected by a licensed mechanic and test driven. I was given the go ahead to buy the vehicle as 98 out of 100 % mechanically sound. In less than a year I am now looking at a $4300 repair bill to keep it running and with a/c with a very near future repair coming possible transmission. The Fletcher's mechanic recommended I Trade it in while it is still running and filled a/c fluid for cold air. My fear is getting taken at a dealership, yet again. I am all most out of money and sick of dealing with car issues and slimy criminal mechanics who charge too much and do not even do anything but make things worse. I have to date lost nearly $60,000 in car loss. I am a good, honest person who saves animals through my rescue. I need a lil karma from my Karma savings account :) Will you please help. I can pay you $100 an hour for up to 3 hours by phone (if a dealer can even finish a deal in that time...doubtful). What do you say...wanna be my gun for hire. To get a feel for who I am please go to my Facebook pages at, Starbarks Pet Rescue or my personal page, Melinda Nina Wood Nelson. Thank you for taking the time to read my very long message Sir. Have a great day.
Melinda, I won't accept payment but I would be happy to help you lease the car of your choice at a fair price. I suggest you go to Choose the exact car you want and you will be given 3 dealers with the best prices. Contact the dealer of your choice but don't sign anything until you call me, cell phone 561 358-1474. I will advise you at no charge if it is a good deal and, if not advise you what to do.
You are wonderful. Thank you, I will do that. It is hard to admit fault but I am honest and can admit my buying

Good morning, Melinda. You’re very welcome and don’t feel bad about admitting your difficulty buying a car. Most people have the same difficulty, and it’s not your or their fault; it’s the anachronistic, unethical and often illegal way most car dealers sell cars today. I would like to ask a favor of you. I write a weekly blog, advising car buyers just as I am advising you now. May I use our Facebook dialog in my blog, this week? If you prefer, I could redact your name. Please let me know this morning, if possible. Because your situation is so typical, I believe your real life story would greatly benefit many others. If you agree, we can follow up next week with how you fared followed my advice. Thanks very much. :)

yes, you may use my name and my message. I appreciate all you do for folks like me. Thank you :)
When I hear back from Melinda as to how her TrueCar purchase experience went, I will relate it to you in an upcoming column.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Unsafe Auto Repair Body Parts Mandated by Your Insurance Company?

I can hardly believe that what I’m writing is true but it really is! If you damage your car in an accident, your insurance company will often specify that the body shop repairing it use crash parts (fenders, bumpers, hoods, etc.) that have never been safety tested and approved by the US government. These are cheap parts, not made by your auto’s manufacturer, usually made in China referred to as “aftermarket parts”. The insurance companies specify these simply to minimize their cost of repairing your car.

I've written other articles on this. I've talked about it on my radio show. I’m participating in a class action suit against insurance companies for this practice. I've contacted Jeff Atwater, the Florida CFO, who presides over the Department of Insurance and reported this practice to them. I've filed a complaint with NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association. I've contacted reporters from the newspapers and TV. But so far, I've been unable to get anybody to do anything about it. .

Federal law clearly states that all parts used for body repair of vehicles must be at least as safe as the parts made by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). The Federal Code actually states that we may not alter or make inoperative a device or element of design that is in compliance with an applicable safety standard. My contention is that using untested, non-OEM parts is altering the design of the vehicle……
Title 49, Chapter 301 Sub-chapter II Sec. 30122 "Making Safety Devices and Elements Inoperative"
a. DEFINITION In this section, "motor vehicle repair business" means a person holding itself out to the public to repair for compensation a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment.

b. PROHIBITION A manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business may not knowingly make inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable motor vehicle safety standard prescribed under this chapter unless the manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or repair business reasonably believes the vehicle or equipment will not be used (except for testing or a similar purpose during maintenance or repair) when the device or element is inoperative.
A hood, fender, or bumper that has never been subjected to, and passed, federal crash tests is highly likely to make an airbag “inoperative” as one example. This is why I’m so amazed that NHTSA, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, the media, or SOMEBODY hasn't taken any action against any insurance company when they consistently, flagrantly are breaking the law!

All I can do is what I’m doing. I’ll continue to write about it, talk about it, tell the media about it, and pursue my lawsuits. I sometimes feel like one of these crazy conspiracy theorists. I don’t think I’m crazy. If I am crazy, I wish someone would address this and take the necessary steps to get me psychological help. If I’m libeling or slandering insurance companies, I invite them to sue me. If you’re reading this article, I would really appreciate hearing your opinion on why no regulators, federal or state, have taken any action against the insurance companies for breaking the law and endangering the lives of millions of Americans. I also implore you to ask your federal and state legislators this question.

If you've been in an auto accident and had your collision repair paid for by an insurance company, there’s a very good probability that crash parts used were not OEM and never safety tested. If you are involved in an accident in the future, I advise you to insist on OEM parts. If your insurance company refuses, ask them to show you documented evidence that the parts they are recommending have passed federal crash test standards.